Not a Fairy Tale.

Once upon a time, there was a very large farm owned by a very happy family. In a very different time, that farm would be unrecognizable, a series of factories and offices and storefronts with sparse remnants of trees or fields to mark the open land that spread forth a mere four or five decades prior. In those times, entertainment came in the form of family and imagination. Summer bedtimes were dictated by the weather, when the heat of a kerosine lamp proved too overwhelming to leave it burning. Water was gathered by well or by pump, depending upon the purpose, and an outhouse resided in place of plumbing.

Though the tough post-depression era led the woman who owned the farm to ultimately sell it, the land forever divided and changed, her grandchildren would retain something that could never be lost, stolen, or sold. Memories. Fifty, even sixty years later cousins and siblings would still be able to reminisce and share stories of “grandma’s farm”, of the cats and other animals there, and the games they played. They could remember a simpler time when children obeyed, when “don’t go in that section of the barn” yielded the desired effect with no need of threat, and no resulting disobedience as a result of reverse psychology.

A little girl with two older brothers frequented her grandmother’s farm. There were a significant number of years between her and her brothers, and they teased their little sister, occasionally luring her with a candy bar only to blow the smoke of their cigarettes at her. Thankfully, neither the teasing nor the smoking survived their teenage years, and those boys would drop both bad habits, no longer smoking and becoming staunch protectors of their sibling in later years. There were other cousins who visited the farm, another younger girl who also had an older brother she didn’t get along with very well. The older girl and the younger girl became great friends, and bonded in those happy early years on the farm.

Corporeal Edens are transient, and time slips by in the blink of an eye. The girls grew up but remained friends even as their lives took different paths. It was the younger cousin who married first, to a strong husband who gave her first a son, and then a daughter. The older cousin would marry a little later, and after several failed attempts finally have a son of her own in her mid-thirties. There was a brief period of the time during which the cousins lost touch, and didn’t speak for one reason or another no longer important, but time heals wounds and the two were friends again before long. Though raising their own families, they found time frequently to converse on the phone, sometimes as long as three or four hours to the chagrin of their starving husbands. With loving and attentive parents, the children of both cousins found it hard to leave home as they grew older, though tragedy separated the younger cousin from her son when he was only twenty-five. A sudden, devastating illness presenting itself like Leukemia overtook him quickly, and he was gone within three days’ time. The cousins were closer than ever, and the older woman guided the younger one through her ordeal, their long late-night talks longer than ever.

More time passed as the daughter of the younger cousin married a fireman, and immediately set about raising a family of her own. Times were tough and the young couple still lived with the girl’s parents until they could afford a place of their own. As one grandchild grew to four, there was understandable tension between mother and daughter. When the mother needed to vent, her cousin was always there to talk. It was fortunate that shortly after the fourth child, the daughter and her husband were finally able to get a home of their own.

One day, the younger cousin had an accident and broke her leg, finding herself homebound for several weeks. Only 59 years old, she was bored, as stressful as work itself was. The older cousin’s son had a bad habit of tying up his mother’s phone line while surfing the internet, but that was soon to change with impending DSL. His mother had a long conversation with her cousin about this new development, and a great many things. The younger cousin spoke of being cooped up, and of her orthopedist telling her she’d be able to return to work in a few weeks, news she conveyed to her boss. She spoke of simple things like doing the Jumble with her husband, a practice shared by the other woman. The women spoke of everything and of nothing, as they had when they were little girls, as they no doubt would still be doing when elderly women.

One morning, a few days after they had spoken, the younger cousin’s daughter called the older cousin. Her father had been unable to wake her mother, and rushed her to the hospital. The older woman, accompanied by her husband, raced to the hospital and, after a few long hours, called to update her son. The woman was stable but in some sort of coma, with fluctuating vital signs. Her glucose level was an obscene 2500, the impact of which hit the older cousin’s son when he read online that a level of 500 induces a coma with a high fatality rate. When his parents returned home for dinner, he returned to the hospital to be with family in a time of need, and to pray together. He watched as the woman’s husband joked and tried to stay in good spirits, saying, “I can’t wait for her to wake up and yell at me.” He watched his mother stroke the arm of the woman in the bed, comforting her and telling her she was going to be fine. The woman had a number of intravenous feeds of various medicines. She had a tube taped to one side of her mouth pumping her stomach of bile and a tube on the other side hooked up to a respirator. She writhed but her eyes remained closed, and the respirator itself seemed to be generating the most movement. Doctors and nurses were in frequently, checking readings and keeping the family apprised of the situation. One nurse even spoke of, “when she wakes up”, probably to keep the family at ease. The family finally had to leave, having stayed well past visiting hours, and the staff assured the husband he would be notified of any change. Though her glucose was down to under 500 her vitals were still erratic, and medicine was being administered for a suspected blood clot.

The following evening, the son of the older cousin returned home after a long day of work and gym to find a dark house, two starving cats, and an answering machine bursting with messages. The last had been from his mother, saying things didn’t look good and they had spent the day at the hospital. When she called back the son said he would come to them, and after a quick shower drove a half hour to the hospital without a second thought.

The woman lying in the bed scarcely resembled the woman he’d seen the day before. Her skin was pale, her lips blue, and the unnatural rise and fall of her chest caused by the respirator was the ONLY movement her body exhibited. Her husband stood by one side of the bed holding her hand, while her cousin stood on the other stroking her arm, still telling her she would be fine. Another cousin, a tough tall man with a shaved head and a goatee choked back tears. The daughter and her husband were somber when not nervously visiting the cafeteria. The older cousin’s husband looked exhausted to his son, and when he learned that neither parent had eaten since 10:30AM, well over 12 hours prior, he journeyed to the cafeteria, which was fortunately still open at midnight, and picked up Jell-O and oatmeal, the only available choices at that hour that suited his parents dietary restrictions. He himself grabbed a small bowl of Rice Crispies, and had a late unconventional dinner.

Sleeping in the waiting room proved impossible, and since the doctors had said the woman could depart anywhere from five minutes to five hours, her family remained close. Her cousins shared stories of the farm with the husband, who shared anecdotes of his own experiences with his wife. He spoke of a tradition of buying baseball cards for their deceased son when he was younger, and of coming across a box of them while cleaning his garage. By 1AM the woman was adamant that she would not leave her cousin’s side, and told her son to take his father home. The father, a 74-year-old living with a heart condition, had a an 11AM doctor’s appointment himself and there was his health to consider. Reluctantly they left, and asked to be called for any reason.

The five hours of sleep the son managed were full of dreams forgotten, bits and pieces of two unconventional days jumbled together. A phone call at 7:30AM woke him, his mother calling to let the father know that her cousin was still hanging on, but that blood had begun to flow from her nose and the doctors didn’t think it would be much longer. When the son arrived at work, he called his father and received the news. While his mother was making the first phone call at 7:30AM, her cousin passed away and was gone by the time she returned. Within the span of a decade, a man had lost both his son and his wife, and a woman had lost both her brother and her mother, their only consolation the certainty that the two were reunited at least in heaven.

A son returned home from work and hugged a 64-year-old little girl who hadn’t slept in two days, and who had lost one of her best friends. The next few days of saying goodbye sprawled before them, as children looking out at a vast expanse of farmland, the distance incalculable to their perceptions.

Goodbye, Aunt Gerry.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's sad. Very sad.


1/12/2005 1:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home